Chief Justice Kipling Ernest Douglas died last week, aged 87. Tributes have poured in for Mr. Douglas, who in 1988 was appointed Cayman’s first Chief Magistrate.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said that Justice Douglas lived a long, fruitful and productive life.
“We are saddened at the passing of our colleague and friend Kipling Douglas,” Mr. Smellie said. “We wish to take a moment, publicly, to pay a tribute in recognition especially of his service to the Cayman Islands.”
Justice Douglas started professional life as a civil servant in Jamaica where he worked for three years before going to England in 1951 to study journalism. He worked in England until 1954 when he returned to Jamaica where he worked with the Daily Gleaner until 1956. He then served as editor of the West Indian Law Magazine and as assistant News Editor at Radio Jamaica.
He returned to England in 1957 and while working at the London City Council he studied Latin. He registered at Middle Temple in 1960 to study law and was called to the bar there in 1963.
He had by that time been married to his wife Leslie for four years and they, and their first child Mark, returned to Jamaica in 1964 where he entered private practice.
Over the course of the ensuing 20 years, he practiced law in Jamaica and became Resident Magistrate for a number of parishes, most latterly, the Resident Magistrate for Hanover, based in the parish capital Lucea.
He is most fondly remembered there by the nick name “clip–wing Douglas” for the sharp but firm and appropriate sentences he imposed, frequently accompanied by wise and witty words of advice.
On May 1, 1983, he was appointed Magistrate of the Summary Court in the Cayman Islands and in 1988 he was appointed as the Islands’ first Chief Magistrate.
While in that post, he was appointed from time-to-time to act as a judge of the Grand Court and on occasion as Acting Chief Justice, in the absence of then Chief Justice, Sir John Summerfield.
In 1993 Justice Douglas was appointed Chief Justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands in which post he served for three years until retirement in 1996.
But as a consummate lawyer and judge, he was not given to full retirement and so accepted appointments as acting judge of the Grand Court until 2004 when he finally left judicial life to accept appointment as legal advisor to the newly established Financial Reporting Authority, within the Attorney General’s Office.
As a final crowning achievement of a long and distinguished career, a legal report carried this caption about Justice Douglas in June 2011: Legal Heavyweight Leads New Cayman Firm.
It announced his appointment with attorney Janet Francis to head Smeets Law (Cayman), a member of the GCA Smeets Law Network, which was then made up of independently-run firms in the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe.
Notwithstanding his many successes as a lawyer and his lasting contributions as a magistrate and judge, Justice Douglas is reported as saying that his crowning achievement within the legal fraternity was his election to the Executive Council of the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association in 1985, where he served until 2016, firstly as regional vice president and then as president from 1994-97. He was then appointed as Honorary Life Vice President.
Justice Douglas’ judicial career is possibly best encapsulated in his own words penned in his book The Courtroom, the Poor Man’s Theatre in which he shares a collection of anecdotes spanning his 37 years in the courtroom.
Still many others will remember him for his elegant and informative travel articles which he published on occasion in the local press.
Justice Smellie said: “Among his colleagues and friends within the judiciary and legal fraternity of the Cayman Islands, Justice Douglas will always be remembered most fondly for his insightfulness, his wonderful wit and sense of humour and all in all, as a very fine gentleman.
“Our condolences go out to his wife Leslie, his children Mark and Elizabeth, grandchildren, his brother Lawson and extended family. May his soul rest in peace.”